Author Archives: lmseger

Bioethics as Biopolitics

This article is the editorial introduction to a special biopolitics-themed issue of the Journal of Medicine & Philosophy.  I came across it during my negative results research since one of the issue’s articles uses the term “rejected knowledge.”  The table of contents for the entire issue is available here:

Even though this editorial doesn’t perform any biopolitical analysis, itself, I found it interesting since it begins by discussing the simplistic view of biopolitics (the one I entered this course with) as merely bioethics influenced by political ideology.  A common complaint about most bioethical writing is that it is strictly descriptive/normative — “this is wrong, we should do that instead.”  If a political analysis is included, it doesn’t go much beyond noting “who occupies the White House” (205).  It’s nice to know that, at least in this special issue, authors develop their analyses further to include figures we’ve studied this semester: Foucault, Agamben, etc.  I’m particularly interested to read the last three articles by Newell, Hall, and Bleakley.

Response to Clough’s “The Affective Turn”

I struggled with this piece, feeling like I lacked a common vocabulary with the author and the theorists she presents.  I was surprised, since I thought I understood our previous class discussion on affective labor — “work to produce and reproduce life” as someone quoted this week — so I had an easier time following Clough’s couple of sections that dealt with labor, but I stuggled most with the concept of the affective body: the pre-individual, pre-emotional, indeterminate, body-not-as-organism body.

One way that I’ve tried to make sense of this is to think of the affected body, which is what I believe the theorists in Clough’s examples were studying when they investigated the automatic, non-conscious bodily reactions of pupil dilation, etc. that occur immediately in response to a stimulus, even as conscious awareness of the stimulus lags behind by a half second or so.  Is this understanding of “affectedness” compatible at all with Clough’s conception of the affective turn?  If so, how does it illustrate an idea of the body as indeterminate or non-organismic?

Hopefully the class can help me understand this material, since I feel like my questions keep spinning me in circles.

Random Thoughts on Week 12

Was there a gender divide in who was identified for treatment by the Friendship Centre?  Were men more likely to be picked than women because women were/are socially educated not to speak up or share their thoughts, and so would be less likely to participate in discussion groups?

When Treichler lists all the competing (mis)conceptions of HIV/AIDS in the mid-80s — particularly the published scientific shift from viewing AIDS as a homosexual disease in ’85 (illustrated by the “rugged vagina” quote!) to a possibly heterosexual disease in ’86 — I was struck by what we in philosophy of science refer to as “underdetermination.”  This is when the same set of facts can be used to advance/support two or more entirely different theories, and this happens quite frequently in science.  Thus, science is heavily influenced by shared social values which people use to choose between two underdetermined theories.  As Treichler observes, the science (facts) of HIV/AIDS hadn’t changed at all from ’85-’86, but prevailing public opinion was beginning to, thus the resulting change in theory.

Week 9 response

Some not-quite-organized thoughts:

I found the two pieces by Waldby and Cooper particularly intriguing, and I appreciated that they applied Cooper’s reproductive/regenerative distinction to highlight the different labor provided by women to the IVF and stem cell industries.  I always knew that there was something fundamentally different between women supplying oocytes (for example) for reproduction vs research – beyond just the mere difference in purpose – but I could never articulate it.  Analyzing how bodily potentiality is reconfigured differently by regenerative labor, to borrow Cooper & Waldby’s language, helps me.

Due to the grave risks and what I consider seriously deficient compensation, I’ve always been uncomfortable with the solicitation of women for oocyte “donation”, be it for either reproductive or regenerative goals.  When Waldby and Cooper observed that regenerative egg sales open the market to women of color, who are typically excluded from reproductive egg sales, I was struck by the realization that this could actually be viewed as good/empowering.  Has there been any academic discussion to this effect?

Whenever I hear complaints about the shortage of oocytes for stem cell research, I always wonder (ignoring for now any objections to animal use/exploitation for research), “Why not use rabbits?”  Rabbit oocytes are supposed to be pretty close to human oocytes such that theoretically you could use SCNT with a human nucleus and an empty rabbit “eggshell” and end up with an almost entirely-human clone.  (I say “almost human” since the resulting organism would have rabbit mitochondria, but what do mitochondria really do differently in rabbits anyway?)  I had always thought that assumptions of human purity/superiority or fears of monster chimeras were what was keeping us from pursuing this source of research material, but now I’m wondering if there is a feminist objection to women losing this opportunity for paid labor — especially from any women who currently depend on oocyte sales for their livelihood.

Random thought:  The discussion of unappreciated body-labor that includes the quote, “only the intellectual labour of the scientist who manipulates tissues in the laboratory appears as valuable activity,” from W&C’s biopolitics of reproduction, really describes what happened with the HeLa history we read before.

A final chicken/egg question: Which was originally the premise and which the conclusion?

Argument A – Only labor of the mind, not of the body, is worthy of pay.  Women naturally labor of the body.  Thus, women’s labor should not be paid.


Argument B – Women’s labor should not be paid.  Women naturally labor of the body.  Thus, only labor of the mind, not of the body, is worthy of pay.

It doesn’t make much difference now how the original reasoning went — women’s labor is not valued and that needs to be addressed — but I am curious just how central a role misogyny played in ancient philosophy.

Esposito Ch 5 (response)

In his final chapter of Bios, Esposito attempts to outline an affirmative biopolitics that turns the Nazi politics of death into one that is “no longer over life but of life.” (157)  He says this is possible by turning the three dispositifs of Nazism he identified in the previous chapter (the normativization of life, the double enclosure of the body, and the preemptive suppression of birth) inside out by extending the notions to include that which appears beyond their reach in order to create a bios that is “open to a more originary and intense sense of communitas.” (ibid) This all might make perfect sense to someone with a fuller theoretical background than me, but I really need some concrete examples here to wrap my head around.  I somewhat get the first reversal he presents – that of the flesh extending beyond the body – as it follows previous class discussions concerning in vitro human cells.  An interesting new discussion would be on how Esposito’s concept of flesh relates to Cooper’s concept of surplus life.  Esposito appears on the verge of giving a practical example when he argues that flesh should be rethought outside of Christian language since it’s no longer the divine that’s penetrating the body during organ transplantation (168), but he doesn’t continue the organ transplant talk with the other two dispositifs

I’m afraid much of my impatience with Esposito and what I view as his lack of practical direction stems from dealing with a stomach flu this weekend that made the rounds of my department last week.  I doubt I’ll be in class tomorrow, so assign me whatever reading you want.

Landecker’s “Immortality, In Vitro: A History of the HeLa Cell Line” (response)

I had known of HeLa cells long before I learned of the story of Henrietta Lacks, but the story I heard was only the most recent narrative of economic exploitation, so it was very interesting to read Landecker’s history of all the different narratives that have been circling Henrietta and the cell line derived from her cancer.  It was also interesting to get a peek into the history of tissue culture – we certainly weren’t wearing black robes and working with steaming cauldrons in my lab!

Landecker focuses on several important themes in her history, but the two I found most interesting were immortality and race.  Continue reading

Kuhse & Singer: “What is bioethics? A historical introduction” (full text)

Zylinska references Kuhse & Singer’s A Companion to Bioethics.  I regularly assign their introduction to my 100-level bioethics course, and I’ve provided the text below if you are interested in an accessible history of bioethics.

Continue reading